Monday, 5 December 2016

The Living Animal: Aspects of the Function of Statuary among the Ancient Greeks

This is a scan of a research proposal which was completed on the 19th of December 1994, while I was living and working in Oxford. I have been on this path a long time. This was one of two proposals submitted, to different institutions. Neither of the proposals were funded, which isn't really surprising. If this case could be made successfully, it would up-end the history of philosophy, and place its origins in a cultic context. Which is the core argument of the book I published in 2015. 

It is interesting to look at this proposal now, and to see that I confined the parameters of the research (at least within the proposal) to Greece. But I had by this time seen and studied the Mesopotamian rituals for the installation of divine statues. The information contained in those documents, together with  the philosophical discussion in Plato's Sophist mentioned in the proposal, allowed me to infer that Plato knew the logic and ritual for the installation of a divine statue in Greece, and that his writing about the Forms had as much to do with divine images, as it did with a purely abstract argument about how an individual might approach 'The Good'. 

Of course there is no dispute that the Greeks had statues of the gods, and that they gave their observances and respect to the divinity of these images, within their various cults (I choose my words carefully here). However no ritual for the installation of divine statues survives from ancient Greece, The eminent scholar Walter Burkert has gone so far as to declare that the absence of these rituals in the record indicates to us that there were no such rituals for the installation of divine statues in Greece. That's quite a claim, since if an elaborate three day ritual was considered necessary for such an installation in Mesopotamia, and there was no parallel elaborate ritual for the creation of divine images in Greece, that would make the Greeks seem cavalier about the matter. The Greeks were rarely cavalier about their gods. 

There is little about this proposal which I would change after twenty-two years. It was on the money, in suggesting that the origin of philosophy was in cult practice, and the logic which underpinned it (which seems very strange to us). This is utterly anathema to classical scholars, who prefer a fictional and largely secular origin for its beginnings. 

Thomas Yaeger, December 5, 2016

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